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Transportation Nation

Could San Francisco Become the Next Manhattan?

Monday, September 17, 2012

(Photo courtesy of Alfonso Jimenez)

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 1 and  part 2.

(Ben Trefny - San Francisco, KALW) Photographer Richard Morgenstein has lived in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood since the late 1990s. Before that, he lived in Manhattan and enjoyed it. In many ways, Morgenstein is still very New York. He doesn’t have a car. He relies on public transportation to tote his camera bags around. But the new construction soaring above a growing San Francisco doesn’t really make him nostalgic for his former hometown. Rather, he’s inclined to give a Bronx cheer.

“I do think that one of the issues of multiple large buildings is a sort of a Manhattanizaton of San Francisco and a change in the character of, say, street life, the character of the light of the city, character of walk-ability,” he says. “I look at them as some sort of negative that comes along with the positive of extra housing.”

San Francisco is in transition. According to the Department of Building Inspection, there are 56 major developments in various stages of the approval process, with more than 5,000 residential units under construction. That means the city is, for sure, Manhattanizing, according to Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Coalition.

He says, “We’re very much interested in increased heights and density to add significantly higher levels of housing production in San Francisco and at the same time reducing the influence of private auto use.”

San Francisco’s General Plan calls for construction of more than 30,000 housing units by 2014 with the majority for affordable to moderate income earners. A third of that is being built on the city’s Eastern waterfront, from Mission Bay to the south. Other primary targets include the mid-Market, and SOMA neighborhoods. The city’s planning department is considering options in every area.

“San Francisco is fortunate that high-tech is red hot right now. The office market is red hot,” says Colen. “There’s an enormous demand in particular south of Market and eastern part of the city for office space, and as a result [the] rental housing market is, in a way, going through the roof. Anyone can talk about the insane levels of rent that we’re seeing on housing now, and that gets to the question of building," he says. "How do we build housing, and who gets to live here?”

Colen’s easy solution, and the one many developers are going for, is to build up. But that’s easier said than done.

He says, “San Francisco, in spite of everything we might think about it, is really a very conservative city as far as land use goes and is very, very resistant to change and anything that adds new housing a lot of folks get quite upset at.”

Throughout the last decade, more than a dozen neighborhood associations have filed lawsuits against the San Francisco Planning Commission over aspects of their housing plans. The plans called for Smart Growth, around “major transit lines.” The associations didn’t think that should include bus routes. Parking is also an issue. There were concerns about infrastructure, like accessing water. Disagreements about how to retain historic character in neighborhoods like Pacific Heights.

“The city was planning on changing the zoning which would have made that entire area have hundred foot plus buildings,” says Greg Scott, president of the Pacific Heights Neighborhood Association. That “would have meant that many of the single-family homes and even some of the smaller apartment buildings would have been demolished to build those much higher buildings. And that whole area would have become like Manhattan.”

But not anymore.

After settlements and environmental impact reports, developers, today, cannot build buildings more than forty feet tall in historically residential parts of Pac Heights and other low-rise neighborhoods, unless they have a permit from the San Francisco Planning Department. And with active neighborhood associations intent on retaining historic character, those are hard to come by. So San Francisco’s skyline is being reinvented, but only so far, and mostly near downtown; which is one reason why residents like transplanted New Yorker Richard Morgenstein are happy they moved to San Francisco in the first place.

“It’s still not quite like Manhattan,” he says. “I think huge swaths of Manhattan are… there’s so much going on, things are moving so quickly that the pace is very different. And the pace in San Francisco has amplified somewhat or accelerated, it’s not even close to Manhattan though. It’s not even close.”

Which, to him, anyway, is just fine.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 1 and  part 2.

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Transportation Nation

Gentrification and Transportation in Washington: Part II of a Special Report

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Caoital Bikeshare station in DC's Deanwood neighborhood (photo by Martin DiCaro)

This is the second of a two-part series on the relationship between gentrification and access to transit in Washington D.C.'s rapidly changing neighborhoods. Part 2 examines the Deanwood and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Ward 7. Part 1 examined the Shaw and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods in the Georgia Avenue corridor in Ward 1.

Despite the presence of three Metro stations -- four when counting the station just over the border in Prince George's County -- redevelopment has been slow to take hold in D.C.'s Ward 7. If you take the train east of the Anacostia River and arrive at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station in the Deanwood area, you will arrive in what looks like a different city in one significant respect: while other parts of Washington are exploding with new high-rise apartment buildings and retail space, this neighborhood is only starting to grow.

"We still like the small-town feel of this area, and we have an older population," says Dennis Chestnut, 62. He runs the grassroots community group Groundwork Anacostia. "We like to retain a little bit of that as the growth takes place, so I think that very rapid growth has its drawbacks."

"When you look at this Metro station and all of the space that is available here, there is opportunity here for Metro and transit-oriented retail that could support the community in a lot of ways," Chestnut added.

That section of the city has remained underserved for decades, and developers are now beginning to take advantage of what is fertile ground for real estate projects. At the very busy intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, ground has been broken on the Park 7 development, a $67 million mixed-use real estate project that will include 20,000 square feet of new retail space and mostly affordable rental housing among its 370 apartment units, a key to protecting existing residents from rising property values as gentrification takes root.

"The people who are most vulnerable are renters because their rents can keep going up," says Cheryl Cort, the policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "D.C. does have a moderate rent-control law for older buildings, but there are ways for building owners to get around that, so renters are most vulnerable to rising prices."

In July, about 100 affordable housing units for residents 55 and older opened at Victory Square on Barnes Street NE, a component of the ward's Parkside master plan. Tenants with moderate incomes will pay rents ranging from $775 to $960, according to a statement by the Banc of America Community Development Corporation.

There are at least seven major real estate projects in Ward 7 receiving city subsidies.

New transit and gentrification

Coming changes could cause unintended consequences for the ward's poorest residents. A plan to extend the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line east of the Anacostia River is under consideration. A study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that neighborhoods that get new rail transit systems like streetcars experience a significant increase in housing prices. In some places, renters and low-income households have been priced out.

"A streetcar or light rail can lead to gentrification here," says Peter Tatian, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute. "It has in other places. It brings investment into a community and new people who are attracted by the new transportation. What the city needs to do is think about how it can take advantage of the benefits of light rail as well as mitigating the negatives that might exist, particularly for renters."

While many residents may welcome the streetcar line, Octaviah Holt, a 21-year-old professional, has her doubts about whom it will benefit.

"Who would put a trolley in this neighborhood?" says Holt. "I don't feel as though there is a lot of crime, but a lot of people wouldn't want to ride a trolley, the people that I know. I feel as though it's not for us, the people in the neighborhood. It's meant for the newcomers."

The perception that Ward 7 is not a place where developers want to build or people want to move is fading, according to Tatian.

"People who come out here will see the changes, but the problem is getting the people to come out here in the first place," he says. "There is still this perception that this is not a good place to be, but that is starting to change slowly."

New pedestrian bridge over I-295

One can get a bird's eye view of the traffic roaring by on Route 295 by standing on the old, narrow, poorly lit pedestrian bridge connecting Deanwood to Kenilworth. The latter neighborhood has been isolated from its neighbors since the highway was built through here, Chestnut says.

"This bridge is the only connection for this community to Minnesota Avenue and the Metro," he says. Now that Kenilworth is starting to grow, a new pedestrian bridge will be necessary to accommodate increased foot traffic.

"This pedestrian bridge was built a while ago, and it is time for it to be rebuilt," says Cheryl Cort. "It doesn't feel like a very safe place. We talk to residents and there's a tendency to use it during the daylight hours and take the bus home at night. The new pedestrian bridge will be designed to be a much safer place. It will deter crime."

Preparing for change

Whether the neighborhood Dennis Chestnut has called home his entire life can avoid the negative consequences of gentrification remains to be seen. The addition of affordable housing units amid new apartment buildings will certainly help. He says the late development of Deanwood has also turned out to be "a blessing."

"It wound up being a blessing in disguise for this particular area because of how rapidly it happened in some of the other areas," he says. "On the east side of the city, Ward 8 was one example of how rapidly it took place there. It has allowed the residents here in Ward 7 to witness that and to prepare to some extent. This is where the local engagement has been very important to get involved with the process."

Resident O'Neal Odom, 70, who has lived in the ward for 40 years, welcomes the expected transformation as major real estate projects are realized.

"We're finally starting to get some services," he says. "You know, streets fixed, getting stores, we are getting government. It's becoming a better place to live. I have no problem with gentrification. It's going to change like that anyway. Once they start building new houses and new things like that, people will stop being afraid of us."

For more on how gentrification has affected DC residents, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality."

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Transportation Nation

Back Story: How San Francisco's Market Place Came to Be

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This is part 2 of 3 on re-thinking SF's Market Street. Check out part1 and part 3 as well.

(Audrey Dilling -- San Francisco, KALW) Market Street begins, or ends – depending on how you see it – down by the bay.

At 4:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon, streams of people pass through this public space. Many of them carry briefcases and look like they’re in a hurry. Nick Gaffney, who’s on his way to the ferries, says his commute to the Financial District puts him on Market Street more often than he would like.

“I don’t understand why people drive down it quite frankly, because all you can do is take a right,” says Gaffney.

Of course, people do drive on Market Street. They also walk, ride their bikes and take the bus or streetcar. One third of all Muni lines operate on or under Market Street and about a quarter-million people board these lines each day. That’s according to Jeffrey Tumlin, a consultant with San Francisco-based transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard.

“Market Street is unique in many ways -- unique in the world and how important it is in the functional aspect of the transportation network,” says Tumlin.

Tumlin looked into the history on behalf of the Better Market Street project, a joint effort of some city planning agencies. One of the things he found was that efforts to improve Market Street are nothing new.

“About every 10 years or so there has been an effort to do a major redo of the street. And about every 50 years, someone has succeeded in a major effort,” says Tumlin.

One of Better Market’s goals is to turn a street that people use to get places into a street that people want to get to. Tumlin says it’s not there yet. “Throughout history, Market Street has had challenges in its role as a place.”

Back in 1847, around the time Market Street was first imagined, San Francisco looked a little different.

“Pretty much the entire downtown was blowing sand and some scrub,” explains Tumlin. “If you go up to Point Reyes Station, up in Marin, that’s about what San Francisco looked like in 1847.”

San Francisco hadn’t even been called San Francisco for very long. The port town was known as Yerba Buena up until 1846, when American Captain John Montgomery showed up and seized it from Mexico.

Also in 1847, everywhere from the Embarcadero to Montgomery Street didn’t exist yet. It was all water.

“And so the beach, the bay, came all the way into Montgomery and Market and made what was sort of a gentle curve,” Tumlin continues.

There were two major settlements camped out beside the Bay. The total population of the remote and developing town was about 500 people.

“And even then, the arriving Americans had such ambitions for this scruffy little settlement that they knew they needed a plan,” says Tumlin. “And so the job of laying out the plan for San Francisco was given to a hard-drinking Irishman named Jasper O'Farrell who was 26 years old at the time.”

O’Farrell had a vision. The street would run directly between the two camps. He picked the most prominent landmark west of the settlements, Twin Peaks, and imagined the street pointing directly toward it. Tumlin explains what happened next:

“And in a town of 500 people with no source of fresh water, no overland connections to anywhere else in the world, six months to any point of civilization, [O’Farrell] decides to make the street 120 feet wide. And he names Market Street after Market Street in Philadelphia. And Market Street in Philadelphia is only 100 feet wide, but because San Francisco is going to be even more amazing than Philly, Jasper O'Farrell says, ‘No. We're going to make this one of the grandest boulevards in the world.’”

And so it is – at least size-wise. And over the years all the city’s public transportation came together on this one boulevard.

A little more history: The 1906 earthquake and fire tore down most of the buildings on Market Street, but the street had mostly recovered by the 1920’s.

“Between the 1920s and World War II, big chunks of Market Street were kind of a small-scale equivalent of Broadway in New York,” says Tumlin. “All of the theaters were there. It was the place that people went out to at night. It was the place for large-scale entertainment and very much the place to see and be seen.”

Most of those theaters were located here, in the Mid-Market district.

Today, this part of town is not so much a place to see or be seen -- or so says local resident Joe Robinson.

“I think it's crazy. I think it's wild. I think everything goes on Market Street. I mean if you really had a magnifying glass to see what was really going on, you'd be amazed,” says Robinson.

Tumlin actually traces the trouble to the creation of San Francisco’s subway system in 1967. “The final decision to do the Muni Metro subway and to do the BART subway created dramatic change in the street," he says. "One impact was very negative, which was that for four years, Market Street was a big hole in the ground.”

And that, Tumlin, says wasn’t good for business. But then, he adds, Market’s never been quite the draw Jasper O’Farrell thought it would be. “Throughout history, Market Street has had challenges in its role as a place. And part of that has had to do with thinking about the accommodation of the automobile in the third quarter of the 20th century, but I think more fundamental to that is its width.”

It’s just one theory, but Tumlin says city planners have learned over time that people prefer smaller, more intimate streets over grand boulevards.

“And so streets that work as a single space are generally not wider than 80 feet. And, in fact, 30 feet is a heck of a lot better. So that’s one of the challenges we face. Like how do we create a street that people do want to linger on?” Tumlin asks.

That’s a question the city’s been trying to answer for about 50 years. Which makes now just about the right time for a solution.

This story originally aired on October 10, 2011.

This is part 2 of 3 of KALW's series on re-thinking SF's Market Street. Check out part1 and part 3 as well.

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Transportation Nation

DC "Pioneer" in Walkable, Transit-Friendly Neighborhoods

Thursday, September 13, 2012

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

(Washington, DC - WAMU) D.C. is known for its great tourist attractions -- not to mention political scandals -- but among real estate developers the metropolitan area is receiving attention for what one expert says is a pioneering approach to the development of neighborhoods.

The D.C. metro area is leading the nation in the creation of WalkUPs --Walkable Urban Places -- according to a report released by George Washington University professor and smart growth advocate Christopher Leinberger.

In Leinberger’s view, developers are reversing decades of thinking about how people want to live, work and be entertained by creating anti-sprawl: densely-built office space, housing, and retail space in urban settings where residents can have most of their daily needs met within 1,500 to 3,000 feet of where they live.  While WalkUPs may differ in many respects from neighborhood to neighborhood, they all share one thing in common: access to multiple modes of transit, including commuter rail, bus, and bike sharing.

“There are 43 regionally significant WalkUPs in this region and they total only 17,500 acres, less than 1 percent of the land mass,” said Leinberger, who heads the political advocacy group Locus. “But this is the future of where most regionally significant job growth and development will go over the next generation.”

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

How walkable is your neighborhood? Leinberger developed a zero-to-100 scoring system at walkscore.com.

“These walkable urban places that I have been studying have a walk score that is a minimum of 70. As [a neighborhood] gets more walkable we have found that its economic performance goes up, and this is why developers are so fascinated by these places. Greater walkability, higher rents. But there is a downside to higher rents and that is basic affordability.”

Capitol Riverfront neighborhood Southeast -- near Navy Yard Metro (photo by Martin DiCaro)

The Capitol Riverfront neighborhood in Southeast D.C. may demonstrate the success of the WalkUP model. A blighted industrial landscape of oil storage tankers and trash transfer stations that was scarred by crime, prostitution and poverty, Capitol Riverfront – just five blocks from the U.S. Capitol building with two miles of riverfront real estate – has witnessed a rapid transformation over the past decade. The catalyst for change was the completion of the Navy Yard Metro Station in 1999, according to Michael Stevens, the executive director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit that performs planning and infrastructure analysis.

“It was only until the Navy Yard Metro station opened in 1999 that I think people started to understand this could be an in-town neighborhood,” said Stevens, who said once the redevelopment of downtown D.C. was accomplished, developers could “jump” into adjacent neighborhood ripe for change.

In the past decade, the Green Line corridor has caught up to -- and exceeded -- the Rosslyn-Ballston Orange Line corridor in attracting the coveted 18-34 demographic, according to data compiled by the BID.  From 2000 to 2010, the Green Line corridor attracted more than 3,400 new households in that age group, slightly more than Rosslyn-Ballston.  In the previous decade such growth was nearly non-existent along the Green Line.

“We survey residents living down here on an annual basis and year in and year out the most important factor for them choosing to live in the neighborhood has been the access to multi-modal transit and the Metro station,” said Ted Skirbunt, the BID’s director of real estate research.

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

The WalkUP model has thrived because there's been an attitude shift among young professionals. Less interested in living in drivable suburbs where the costs of home ownership are incompatible with college debt bills, this cohort has been seeking smaller living spaces where cars -- and the parking spaces they require -- are unnecessary.

“We call it the five-minute neighborhood. Within a five-minute walk you can be at the grocery store, at the park where your kids are going to play or where you’re going to hear a concert. You can walk to your job. You can walk to a restaurant, a bar or entertainment venue,” said Stevens.

During an interview with Transportation Nation, Stevens pointed to an explosion of development taking place in an area covering just a couple square blocks: new loft apartments with ground floor restaurants, an old industrial building being converted into a retail and restaurant cluster, a 50,000-square foot grocery store, and 30,000-square foot health club.  In a suburban setting, such development would require many more acres of space considering the parking lots that would be necessary.

“We are seeing a paradigm shift from an almost entirely suburban model to a generation that doesn’t necessarily want cars. They want multi-modal transportation choices. They want to live close to the urban cores where the action is and the jobs are,” Stevens said.

For more about DC's history with development, check out the TN documentary Back of the Bus: Race, Mass Transit and Inequality

To read more about this issue, check out How Transit Is Shaping the Gentrification of D.C., Part 1

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Transportation Nation

The Transportation System Chicago Never Got

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Proposed Wells Street Subway

WBEZ has taken a deep dive into Chicago's transportation history and uncovered some items that were once on the city's wish list.

  • in the 1950s, the city considered tearing down the Loop "L" because it was thought the  "iron girdle" was retarding the expansion of the central business district
  • a grade-level rail line (Ravenswood) was going to be lowered into an open "cut" in the ground
  • the west leg of the Red Line -- which now terminates at 95th Street -- was supposed to go to 119th Street

More pictures -- and the story -- can be found here: Part I; Part II; Part III

Want to see more transit what-ifs? Check out New York's lost subways.

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Transportation Nation

Lawsuit Says DC Airports Authority Can't Raise Tolls To Pay for Rail

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The agency that's running the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport is holding public hearings on its plan to dramatically raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for the project. But a Federal Court of Appeals will consider a lawsuit that could derail the project.

The class action suit argues the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) does not have the legal right to raise tolls on drivers to pay for trains. Only an elected legislature can raise tolls in order to pay for something other than the maintenance and operation of the Dulles Toll Road itself, the suit claims.

"A toll is a user fee. That means you are using something and you have to pay for the service," says attorney Robert Cynkar, who will argue the case before a federal appellate court in October. "A tax is anything above that where money is being taken from you to raise revenue for another project."

The lawsuit doesn't address whether the Silver Line should be built. It's focused only on whether the MWAA has the authority to raise taxes, which is how Cynkar characterizes the toll hikes.

Under the Virginia constitution, elected officials are the only people who can vote to raise taxes.

But is a higher toll really a tax? To the drivers who will be paying them starting in January, Cynkar says the answer might be yes.

"The issue of whether the Metro rail is a good idea, whether it makes sense for the economy, how much it should cost and all that, are different issues," Cynkar says. "We just say that if you are going to build this thing and you need to get revenue for it, you have to do it the constitutional way."

A lower court dismissed the case in July. According to Don Williamson, a professor of taxation at the Kogod School of Business at American University, the toll increases might legally be considered taxes — but that doesn't necessarily mean the airports authority is in the wrong.

"The public as a whole could interpret any collection of revenue for any purpose to be a form of tax that they are paying to the government," Williamson says. "And it becomes merely a technicality whether we call that collection a tax or a user fee."

For its part, the airports authority "continues to believe the appeal lacks merit, and we will respond appropriately in court," said a spokesman in a statement. The MWAA filed a response to the original suit in April. But Williamson says the appeals court will have room to draw a different conclusion.

"This is a legal issue, not a factual issue, so the Circuit Court of Appeals has more ability to interpret the law differently," he says, "and disagree with the district court."

(Disclosure: one of the plaintiffs Cynkar is representing is an American University law professor. WAMU 88.5 is licensed to American University.)

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Transportation Nation

HUD Secretary Highlights Central Florida Commuter Line as Sprawl Fighter -- and Economic Driver

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

Planners designing around Central Florida’s SunRail future commuter line are working to bring walkable communities around rail stops, said Shaun Donovan, secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They are making sure zoning changes around the stations will be able to increase nearby construction, which creates jobs, but also brings housing and jobs within a walkable distance, he said in an interview with WMFE just before the Florida Housing Coalition’s annual conference.

“Frankly, families are getting more and more fed up,” Donovan said. “I don’t want to spent two hours commuting...the average family now spends fifty cents of every dollar they earn just on housing and transportation...this can lower the cost of jobs.”

SunRail is expected to cost $1.2 billion to construct. It will begin operations in 2014.

 

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Transportation Nation

Rethinking San Francisco's Main Drag

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Market Street (photo by Benjamin Dumas via flickr)

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

Around 250,000 people use Market Street every day— and in every way. They take the bus, ride BART, walk to work, shop... even live.

In 2016, the entire road, between Octavia and the Embarcadero, will be torn up and repaved. So city planners figure it’s the perfect time to reshape and re-imagine San Francisco’s main drag.

San Francisco’s transportation director Ed Reiskin says it’s a good opportunity for the city to do more than pour concrete.

“If we're going to go through the expense and disruption to repair the surface and infrastructure of Market Street, let's not just put it back the way it was, let's really fix it,” Reiskin says.

The Department of Public Works is in charge of the project. They’re working with a variety of city and county agencies to draw up a set of plans that balance the practical needs of the street with the vision of a wide variety of stakeholders.

The public is a part of the process, too -- the most recent public meeting was standing room only.

On the table is everything from a total ban on private cars to dedicated bike lanes; from fewer MUNI stops to more sidewalk cafes and parklets. The city anticipates the redesign to cost around $250 million. Funding for repaving is already in place.

I went out to Market to ask some of the people behind these ideas about their vision for the street.

At the corner of 3rd and Market, map-wielding tourists shiver in shorts and tank tops. A man sits on the sidewalk with his dog. The sign in his lap says ‘Anything helps.’ Throngs of office workers walk right by him, eyes fixed intently on the screens of their smartphones. Bikes squeeze in between buses and the curb, dodging taxis and delivery trucks.

Up ahead I see Mohammed Nuru. He’s the director of Public Works in San Francisco. He’s agreed to meet me here to talk about the street. “It's a pretty busy intersection, as you can see,” says Nuru. “It's busy all the time from about 7 o'clock in the morning until almost 10 o'clock at night.”

Standing next to him is Kris Opbroek. She manages the Better Market Street project.

“I think Market Street is the city's Main Street in a sense. I think it always has been, actually,” she says. “I think its identity is our parade ground, and our real civic space is still here. I think where it falls short a bit is in the day to day use.”

Nuru and Opbroek spend their days watching this street. They’re overseeing Market’s redevelopment. And they’re trying to pin down what is, and isn’t, working here.

Traffic is a big issue. Right now private cars, taxis, delivery trucks, paratransit, and bikes all share the road with streetcars and buses.

Leah Shahum is the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Her office is at 5th and Market. She says another thing on people’s minds is how to make Market safer and more inviting for bicyclists. Bike riding is on the rise, and Market is most used bike corridor in the city.

“I talk to a lot of people who are confident riders. They're people who bike elsewhere in the city,” Shahum says. “They’re adults who really are comfortable bicycling, but they say, ‘Wow, I don't want to bike on Market Street because I'm really scared about it.’”

Right now, most of the bike lanes on Market are painted lines on narrow pieces of pavement shared with buses and trucks and cars. Only about six blocks of the street have a physically separated bike lane.

“What we hear from people is: ‘Wow, for those six blocks, I feel calm, I feel safe, I feel comfortable. This works,’” Shahum says.

She wants that kind of comfort to extend the along the entire length of Market Street.

But the road isn’t just for wheels.

Elizabeth Stampe is the executive director for Walk San Francisco. She says that, ultimately, everyone is a pedestrian. Her office is a block from Shahum’s, at 6th and Market.

“This is the place where the most pedestrians have been hit by cars in the whole city,” she says, as we stand at the busy intersection. “And you can see it's a long crossing for folks with wheelchairs and canes, of whom there are many right here. You don't really get enough time.”

Stampe says that expanding the sidewalks at corners like this would help shorten the time it takes for pedestrians to get across the street and slow down the cars fighting to get through the intersections.

Making it safer to cross the street or ride a bike might seem obvious. But there’s always a trade-off. Solving one problem creates another problem somewhere else, or else pushes it a block farther down the road.

“Market Street is a special street,” says Stampe. “It's the spine of the city. And it's a gathering spot. It’s also a little bit magnetic. Both in the sense that it attracts people, but some parts of it still repel people.”

She says the corner where she works is a good example of Market’s confused identity. “It’s about a block from the mall, but it could be a world away.”

She compares the blocks along Market to islands in a stream. In this case, one island is the upscale shopping and tourist district around Powell Street. The next is lined with abandoned storefronts. Many people are either homeless and living on the street, or live in tiny rooms in nearby SRO hotels.

San Francisco’s transportation director, Ed Reiskin, works a few blocks away at Market and Van Ness. We walked through the Civic Center and talked about the street.

“For a lot of people, this is their living room and it should continue to serve that function,” he says. “If you or I had that space, we would also want to spend more time outside than inside.”

The city estimates that about 6,000 people are without shelter on any given night in San Francisco––many on Market Street.

“There may be some undesirable activity, some criminal activity, or unsafe situations that the city wants to address regardless of what happens design-wise on Market Street,” says Reiskin. “But I don't think we want to lose the character of Market Street or push anyone off of it. We want to make it a nice place for more people to be in.”

During the day the street has different feelings. Some new businesses have moved in, joining art spaces like the Luggage Store. But compared to the bustle just a few blocks away, the street here feels empty.

At Market and Van Ness, traffic hits the city from both major bridges. It’s a gateway to San Francisco – but instead of a grand monument marking the spot, there’s a car wash and a donut shop.

“It's not just infrastructure,” says Reiskin. “It's not just design. It's economic development. It's economic vitality. So I think there's more to it than just how we lay out the streets and how we paint the lines.”

That economic vitality is an important ingredient in a complex process. Money for repaving the street is in place. But coming up with the $250 million this project is expected to cost still has to be worked out. Back at 3rd and Market, Mohammed Nuru says some of that money could come from businesses that stand to benefit from the street’s upgrade.

The intersection of 3rd and Market (image via Google Street View)

“We’re bringing the right partners onto Market Street, bringing the Twitters in, bringing the new businesses in, bringing the restaurants in, all that adds to the vitality of a street,” Nuru says. “And they contribute and they partner with us, so together we’ll try to figure out what the bill will look like.”

Ultimately, though, the project isn’t just about the street’s physical condition––it’s about its character. And that’s a big part of what city officials are considering as they re-imagine Market. What does the street mean, and what should it be?

Nuru says it’s a great opportunity to think big. “I think what this process has done is woken everybody up and made them say, ‘Wow if I had an idea, this is the time to get it in because it could happen.’”

Another public meeting is planned for the fall. Get there early—it’s likely to be standing room only.

For more information on the Better Market Street project, click here.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

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Transportation Nation

Proposed Silver Line Toll Hike Vexes Virginians

Friday, September 07, 2012

Higher tolls are coming to the Dulles Toll Road next January. The question remains how high.

The public had its first chance to weigh in on projected toll increases at an open house Thursday night organized by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), the agency running the Silver Line rail project that will heavily rely on increased toll revenues for its financing.

The Silver Line is a 23-mile rail link connecting Washington, D.C to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the Virginia suburbs. Its projected cost is $5.5 billion.

Effective January, the one-way full toll would increase to $2.75, then to $3.50 in 2014, and $4.50 in 2015, under current toll projections.  Rates would continue to rise two dollars every five years for the next four decades unless other sources of funding are secured to mitigate the toll increases.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Bayush Radadaya of Ashburn, who drives the Dulles Toll Road to work. “Right now I can afford it but once it doubles I cannot because gas prices are so much.”

Unlike a typical public hearing where residents take turns speaking into a microphone to a panel of officials, the event inside a high school cafeteria in Ashburn was informal. MWAA officials were on hand to answer questions, residents could read about the project on posters displaying charts and maps, and submit written comments into a cardboard box.

“You can throw a comment on a card but I’m not quite sure you necessarily have input,” said Pete Sabbatino of Ashburn. “The most input you are going to get is if someone read’s your comment card.  It’s being dictated to you.”

The Airports Authority says public feedback will be taken seriously when establishing the new toll rates later this year.

“The benefit of the [open house] is that we have an opportunity to educate people about the project,” said MWAA CEO Jack Potter.

Toll revenues are projected to cover about 50 percent of the Silver Line’s total estimated $5.5 billion cost.  The project was split into two phases; the tolls would cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s cost of $2.7 billion, under current projections.

Critics of the financing arrangement point to the lack of federal funding ($900 million for Phase 1, none for Phase 2) and relatively small contribution by the state of Virginia ($150 million).  Potter says the airports authority is working to increase those figures, which would reduce the toll increases and give drivers a break. MWAA is requesting a loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.

“It’s a 2.4 percent loan versus what we’re able to get in the open bond market of about six percent, so that would significantly lower our cost for financing the debt,” said Potter, who said Virginia’s contribution of $150 enabled MWAA to delay the $4.50 one-way, full toll rate until 2015. It was originally projected to take effect next year.

To Loudoun County resident Daniel Davies, the plan to finance a rail project out of the pockets of car commuters is unfair.

“"The toll rates plus what the toll avoidance is going to do to our communities and the traffic along Route 7 and Route 28 is just going to be gridlock,” said Davies, referring to drivers who will dodge the higher tolls on the highway by clogging already congested local and state roads.

Davies said he opposes the Virginia state legislature providing any additional funding for the Silver Line because the state already handed over the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA, an asset valued at more than $3 billion during the administration of Gov. Tim Kaine.

Read more TN coverage of the Silver Line here.

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Transportation Nation

Dynamic Pricing Parking Meters Climb Above $5/Hour in SF

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SF Park parking meter. (Photo CC by Flickr user Walter Parenteau)

There's a wonky academic theory that if you raise parking meter prices enough, eventually, there will always be one parking spot free on every block. It's like park-topia, a place that glistens in the near future of urban planers' imaginations. Well, San Francisco is trying it, and the prices are getting higher and higher without a "sweet spot" for some hot blocks.

You can now expect to pay as much as $5.25 and hour at some metered spots in SF. The strategy called “dynamic pricing” is something we've been keeping our eye on at TN because, if it works, it could mean less traffic, more faster (and maybe fewer) car rides into downtowns, and overall smarter transportation systems. The crux of the experiment relies on real-time data about who is parking where and variable rates for different streets to ease congestion and help drivers find elusive public parking spots faster.

The SFMTA launched the pilot project in 2011, using data from parking meters to create an app that lets drivers see where the available spots are in some of the city’s densest neighborhoods. The argument is that if drivers know exactly where to find a place to park, they won’t have to circle in search of a spot, which will make drivers less frustrated, make the streets safer, reduce pollution, and give public transit more room to maneuver. Theoretically, even if it costs more it will still be worth it in time savings. But ... how much more?

Pricing for parking varies according to demand: right now you can pay anywhere from $.25 to over that shocking peak price of $5.25 an hour, depending on where and when you park. That difference in price is meant to spread the parking around; the ultimate goal is making sure that there’s always at least one available spot on the streets involved in the pilot.

The latest rate increase is the seventh since the project launched. Prices can’t go above $6 an hour under the pilot, still far less than a parking lot price. So, what happens if peak streets hit the price ceiling? It's unclear how the city would adapt the SF Park plan.

But it seems to be working. The SF Gate reports that fewer than 2 percent of meters are pushing the price limit now at the temporary maximum price of $5.25. The most common prices are below $2 an hour.

Plus, there are special exceptions to the $6 cap, like big events or ball games. For those, meters can hit $18 an hour. The program is adaptable after all.

 

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Transportation Nation

Fun Facts from the Latest Trove of Transpo Data Released

Monday, August 27, 2012

The United States has more than 4 million miles of public roads. Alabama has more than Alaska, Delaware beats out Hawaii. There are 130 million registered automobiles on U.S. roads. Florida has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities per capita, Kansas and Wyoming tie for the lowest. Texas ships the most freight by weight (1.3 billion tons) but not value. California eeks out oil country in dollars shipped ($1.3 billion to Texas' $1.1 billion).

These scattered facts meant to offer a teaser of what we can learn from data, come from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Late on Friday when summer web readers are skipping town for the beach or an early BBQ, the BTS dropped two separate one paragraph press releases. They pointed to massive treasure troves of data. We saved the news for you until this morning so that more people could ponder what to do with all the new stats, and be at a computer to click through them.

You can peruse through a list of just about every source of funding in 2011 for transportation and infrastructure, from the highway trust fund to Aviation User Fees. You can see transit ridership by metro area. It could take you all day to go through just the indexes.

Some of the data comes from 2010 and from the latest census, other numbers are updated to 2011.

I took on the commuting numbers by state for a sampling:

The average commute takes 25 minutes in America. Would you believe North Dakota has the shortest average commute of any state? It does, at just over 16 minutes. Transit heavy New York has the longest average ride to work at 31 minutes when you factor in drivers. But dive a tad deeper into the data and we find even more surprises: Washington D.C. is the only place where the average commute time by transit (38 minutes) takes longer than driving (35 minutes). At the bottom of the list, Alabama drivers who don't carpool have an average ride to work of 84 minutes. Average!

What do you want us to investigate? Have any ideas for infographics we should make?

If you dive in and want to make a chart out of some of this please send it to us at transponation at gmail.

The Data: 

Transportation statistics by state, 2011

Financial statistics, 2011. Financial stats by state.

 

And here are the full press releases from Friday:

BTS Releases State Transportation Statistics 2011. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), a part of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), today released its annual State Transportation Statistics 2011 (STS) – a web-only reference guide to transportation data for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. STS 2011 includes a wide range of state-by-state information, such as the calculations showing which states had the highest and lowest number of highway traffic fatalities per 100,000 population in 2010. The ninth annual STS consists of 115 tables of state data on infrastructure, safety, freight transportation, passenger travel, registered vehicles and vehicle-miles traveled, economy and finance, and energy and environment, plus a U.S. Fast Facts page. STS 2011 can be viewed on the BTS website.

 

Friday, August 24, 2012 - Federal and state government expenditures on transportation were almost $243 billion in 2009, according to data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Government Transportation Financial Statistics (GTFS) shows that $200 billion of the expenditures were by state governments, with $43 billion from the federal government (Table 15A). More than 50 percent of the funds were used for highways, with 22 percent for transit and 20 percent for aviation (Table 12). Total revenue allocated for transportation in 2009 was almost $245 billion (Table 2A). GTFS consists of 43 tables showing federal, state and local transportation expenditures and revenue in current and inflation-adjusted dollars from 1995 through 2009. For 2009, GTFS does not include local government outlays for highways. Today’s release is the fourth GTFS issued by BTS.

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Transportation Nation

PICS: Largest Truss Bridge Ever Moved into Place Fully Assembled

Monday, August 27, 2012

A nearly 400-foot-long, 4.3-million-pound railroad truss bridge was rolled into place over Torrence Avenue near 130th Street in Chicago over the weekend. It is believed to be the largest truss bridge ever to be moved into the place after being assembled off site. (CDOT)

We like to keep our eye on bridges here at TN. Especially new bridges and new techniques for building them. That could be anything from new ways to finance megaprojects, the politics behind tolling, or engineering feats like floating a bridge down a river and hoisting it in place.

Building a bridge offsite and transporting it to it's final location saves money when it is possible. Similar construction techniques are credited with completing the Lake Champlain, NY bridge ahead of schedule (see video.) This weekend we got word of a mini-milestone in that trend.

On Saturday, Chicago says the city in partnership with the state and several railways, installed the largest truss bridge ever built off site and moved into place fully assembled. A truss bridge is what most people think of as the classic railroad bridge, it looks like a steel cage over the roadway forming box or triangle shapes on the sides for support.

Here are a few shots courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the press release with background on the project below.

Four Self-Propelled Mobile Transporters (SPMTs) relocated the fully assembled 4.3 million pound, 394-foot-long, 67- foot-high truss bridge from its assembly site to its final position on the new bridge piers a few hundred feet away. (CDOT)

 

400-FOOT RAILROAD BRIDGE ROLLED INTO PLACE ACROSS TORRENCE AVENUE

Believed to be Largest Truss Bridge Ever Moved into Place after Assembly

A nearly 400-foot-long, 4.3-million-pound railroad truss bridge was rolled into place

A nearly 400-foot-long, 4.3-million-pound railroad truss bridge was rolled into place over Torrence Avenue near 130th Street today, and is believed to be the largest truss bridge ever to be moved into the place after being assembled off site.

The new bridge for the Chicago South Shore and South Bend commuter rail line is a key project in the $101 million reconfiguration and grade separation of the intersection of 130th Street and Torrence Avenue, which part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Building a New Chicago infrastructure program.

It is also a part of the CREATE project – a partnership between U.S. Department of Transportation, the State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak, and the nation's freight railroads – to invest billions in critically needed improvements to increase the efficiency of the region's passenger and freight rail infrastructure.

“The moving of this new truss bridge is an incredible feat of construction and engineering,” said Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein. “It also demonstrates the strength of the CREATE partnership between government, the railroads and other stakeholders to bring complicated projects like these to fruition to improve the quality of life for Chicago-area communities.”

The goal of the 130th and Torrence grade separation project is to eliminate the two at-grade crossings of the Norfolk Southern tracks with the two roadways to improve the traffic flow of all modes of transport at this complicated intersection.

The project will include the lowering of both roads to fit under the new bridges to be built for the Norfolk Southern freight tracks. The new truss bridge, put in place today, goes overthe freight tracks. The entire intersection reconstruction project includes: six new bridges (railroad, roadway, and pedestrian/bicyclists bridges); a mixed-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists; retaining walls; drainage system; street lighting; traffic signals; roadway pavement and extensive landscaping.

Today, the project General Contractor, Walsh Construction, used four Self-Propelled Mobile Transporters (SPMTs) to relocate the fully assembled 4.3 million pound, 394-foot-long, 67- foot-high truss bridge from its assembly site to its final position on the new bridge piers a few hundred feet away. It is believed to be the largest truss bridge ever assembled then moved.

A truss bridge is one whose load-bearing superstructure is composed of a truss, which is a structure of connected elements forming triangular units.

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Transportation Nation

7 Years After Katrina Washed it Away, Mayors, Amtrak Considering Gulf Coast Rail Bigger than Before

Friday, August 24, 2012

A 2009 Amtrak plan suggests three option s for restoring gulf coast service from New Orleans to Florida.

In 2005, there weren't many passenger trains rolling from Florida to New Orleans -- just three a week in each direction.

Now there are none.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina washed away swathes of rail along the Gulf Coast owned by CSX. Amtrak used those tracks for the last stretch of the Sunset Limited service mostly for passengers going to, or coming from, as far off as Los Angeles. After the storm, Amtrak suspended -- though it did not officially cancel -- the Gulf Coast portion of the route. Seven years later,  from New Orleans to the Florida panhandle Mayors are plotting how to bring back the trains, and add new ones.

More than 40 mayors gathered last week in Mobile, Alabama to hear from Amtrak what they need to do to get trains rolling. If they get their way, the new Sunset Limited Gulf Coast service will be more frequent than before in hopes of boosting tourism and commerce.

According to a review of a 2009 report by Transportation Nation, restoring train service would not be cheap, and the old Sunset route did not turn a profit. Bringing it back requires federal or state support to build it, and then almost certainly, a subsidy to run it. So, the coalition of mayors and local leaders are strategizing how to lobby their representatives in Congress to get the federal funding process going.

Chart from Amtrak Presentation on PRIIA Plan presented to Gulf Coast Mayors. Figures are 2009 dollars.

The Panama City News Herald reports: "Officials believe reviving the train service would be a boost to tourism and would help the economies of communities across the Gulf Coast still recovering from Katrina." According to the paper, "Mobile, Alabama Mayor Sam Jones wants an alternative to cars and planes, both of which he calls "too costly."

A 2008 act of Congress, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIAA), required Amtrak to come up with a plan for restoring service. The national rail company offered a 52 page report with three options: restoring the old, sleepy tri-weekly nighttime service, extend the famous City of New Orleans route from Chicago to New Orleans so it turns east to Orlando, Fla. A third option is to  launch a new daily service.

Amtrak tells Transportation Nation the plan is there and done. "It is now the decision of federal and state policymakers to determine if passenger rail service should be restored, identify the preferred option and provide the additional funding for capital and ongoing operating costs."

Some of the stations along the route were so infrequently used that it will be hard to argue for restoring them in tight fiscal times. A local website, NorthEscambria.com reports that fewer than three people per week boarded Sunset Limited trains at the Atmore, Alabama station.

Still, Mayors want the service back, and the primary goal of their big meeting on August 16th, was to gather facts they can use to convince Congress to pony up funding. The Pensacola News Journal reported support from the mayors of New Orleans, Pensacola, Fla. and Mobile, Alabama and others want to take economic arguments to their Congressional representatives. Daily daytime service would make it possible for someone to live in Biloxi, Miss, or nearby and work in New Orleans, or for New Orleanians to take short vacations along the Gulf Coast. That's the kind of story a Congressman would need to hear to devote taxpayer money to an unprofitable line.

Another meeting of mayors and local supporters will take place in the next three months months to focus in on Congressional proposals to pitch to federal lawmakers. Mayor Jones of Mobile, told the Alabama Local "we've probably got another six months worth of preparation before we step out with our plan and proposal."

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Transportation Nation

Nation's First Incorporated African-American Town Gets Streetscape Makeover (PICS)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Gateway Welcomes Visitors to Historic Eatonville Near Orlando

(Nicole Creston, WMFE -- Orlando, Fla.) The small town of Eatonville, Fla. just north of Orlando is best known for being the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States. It is also known for being home to historical landmarks like the first Central Florida school for African-Americans, and to notable figures like writer Zora Neale Hurston.

[Listen to this radio report at WMFE.]

This month, the town celebrated its 125th anniversary by cutting the ribbon on the crown jewel of a multi-year beautification project: an archway visible from Interstate 4. The stately structure welcomes visitors to town and gives Eatonville a new sense of identity. It could be the first step in turning the town into a destination for historic tourism.

Maye St. Julien, Chair of the Eatonville Historic Preservation Board, explains the significance of the year 1887 for Eatonville, and why it’s being recognized 125 years later. “What we celebrate is the actual signing of the articles of incorporation making it an official town recognized by the state.”

The town was actually founded in 1881 by a freed slave named Joe Clark, says St. Julien. She says since African-Americans could only buy individual plots of land back then – enough for one house – Clark sought the help of his boss, citrus industry entrepreneur and retired military captain Josiah Eaton.

“The town is named for Mr. Eaton because he was the major contributor and the major supporter of Joe Clark,” says St. Julien. “And he advertised, and you can see on the newspaper back in 1880s, for people of color to come to Eatonville and own your own land, and you could purchase a lot for $35, or $50 if you needed credit. And that’s how this town was made.”

Six years later, in 1887, men from 27 of Eatonville’s 29 families incorporated the town.

“There were 29, but there was a bit of intimidation on the part of the whites when it was learned that the blacks had acquired this much land,” explains St. Julien. “So, two of them became a little concerned and chose not to participate in that, but thank goodness and God bless the 27 who did,” says St. Julien.

Eatonville’s historic main street is East Kennedy Boulevard. From its intersection with I-4, the town’s business district stretches east about five blocks and the whole strip has been completely refurbished. The road has been repaved and repainted, brick pedestrian walkways have been added, and sidewalks are bristling with Florida-friendly flowers and foliage.

Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount can’t hide his enthusiasm about the changes that district has seen over the past few years. “If you haven’t been down Kennedy Boulevard lately, you will not know Kennedy Boulevard,” says Mount.

City Planners Worked for Two Years to Revive Downtown Eatonville with New Street Pavers, Refurbished Sidewalks, and Shady Trees

Famous African-American institutions including the Hungerford Normal and Industrial School and figures like Hurston shared addresses along the storied piece of pavement.

And now, Eatonville is getting the kind of gateway its leaders say it deserves. A new iron archway mounted on brick columns stretches across Kennedy, facing I-4. A sign at the top extends a welcome to Eatonville and displays information about the historic town and its 125th anniversary. Mount says the whole structure lights up at night.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston Grew Up in Eatonville and Included the Town in Her Novels

“It has a clock on it and it also has some nice plaques on it,” Mount adds. “The Zora Neale Hurston plaque is there, the school [plaque] is there, so that is a very nice theme to the streetscape… The citizens are proud. I’m getting calls all the time.”

The vast majority of those calls about Kennedy’s overhaul are positive, he says.

And so is most of the conversation down the street during a recent lunchtime rush at Vonya’s Southern Cooking Café on Kennedy. The customers were buzzing about Eatonville’s makeover.

“Huge difference already,” says nine-year Eatonville resident Darrius Gallagher. “It should be very beautiful. It’s a very historic town.”

Esther Critton has lived in Eatonville all of her nineteen years. “With them doing the construction, it gives the town a better look and then makes the people feel good, makes the town run smoother,” she says. “So, we’re coming a long way.”

In August 2012, 125 years after the 27 men signed the articles of incorporation for Eatonville, Mayor Mount helped honor those men by cutting the ribbon on the gateway that commemorates the town’s anniversary. The ribbon stretched the full five blocks of the business district, wrapping around the smaller brick columns that now mark the east end of Eatonville on Kennedy.

Those columns, although constructed as part of the same project as the gateway, do not have an arch to support. That seems to be a bit of a problem for one nearby business owner - former Eatonville Mayor Abraham Gordon Junior.

Decorative Columns Mark the East Entrance to Eatonville

Former Mayor Eatonville Abraham Gordon Jr.  Runs Be Back Fish House in Town

Gordon owns the Be Back Fish House, a seafood restaurant and the business closest to those columns. He had a different vision for his end of the street, including a sign identifying the town and, ideally, an archway like the one close to I-4.

“It should’ve been the same height that is down on that end,” says Gordon, “and just had across ‘Welcome to Eatonville’ and that would’ve made it somewhat complete.”Gordon also says the placement of the columns so near his restaurant used up space he was hoping he could dedicate to his customers.

“There’s parking in front of every business in the town of Eatonville,” explains Gordon. “There’s parking in places where there’s no business in the town of Eatonville. And no parking in front of this place, where there is business.”

Instead, he points out, there’s a proliferation of that Florida-friendly foliage, which is mean to enhance the look of the columns but winds up partially obscuring his restaurant from view.

But, he adds, he’s seen the changes Eatonville has undergone since he first arrived in the early 1950s, and he doesn’t want to stand in the way of the town’s evolution. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and we don’t need any more problems.”

He says Eatonville has come a very long way from the cluster of houses surrounded by dirt roads and strained wastewater systems he first saw, and overall he says the town’s new look is “very nice.”

Eatonville Public Works Director Abraham Canady says, “the construction is a result of a federal grant that was spearheaded by Congresswoman Corrine Brown." She adds, "the grant went through the Federal Highway Administration to Florida Department of Transportation.”

The Project was Made Possible by Help From State and Federal DOT's

Canady says the current construction value of the project is about $1.4 million, and he thinks it’s worth every penny, especially the west end gateway that draws welcome attention to the town.

And that’s just the beginning, according to Mayor Mount. There are more changes coming, starting with plans for more development near the new gateway.

“We want it to be mixed use – amphitheaters, the eateries, the hotels,” he says. “That’s what we want. We want Eatonville, when we’re talking about the future, to be a tourist destination. And because people say, ‘What do you have to sell, what do people have to sell?’ Our history.”

He says Eatonville could capitalize on “historical tourism” and become a destination for visitors looking for a different type of Orlando vacation than the theme parks offer.

Mount says that idea is still in the early stages. Next step – a visioning meeting with the town council as Eatonville continues to evolve…and celebrate its anniversary throughout the year.

Click here to listen to Nicole Creston's report on Eatonville at WMFE. 

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Transportation Nation

Investigators Call Chevron Fire a "Near Disaster"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California burst into flames earlier this month.  Reportedly, workers discovered that an old pipe, potentially in operation since the 1970s, was leaking. After about two hours, they removed the insulation unit while the pipe was still processing crude, causing the explosion. Five workers were treated for minor injuries, but the Chemical Safety Board has called the accident a “near disaster” for refinery personnel. A "shelter in place" warning was issued for the community because of potential toxins in the air. And more than 11,000 residents went to the emergency room complaining of health problems.

Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing. But, inspectors need access to the site of the explosion, which is still considered too dangerous.  Robert Rogers, the Richmond reporter for the Bay Area News Group, has been following the story. He spoke with KALW’s Holly Kernan about the fallout of the fire.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: NY State Court Overturns Tax That Supports NY MTA

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In response to a lawsuit filed by seven suburban county governments, a New York State judge ruled Wednesday that a payroll tax suburbanites pay for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is unconstitutional.  Government leaders from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties are among those who sued to overturn the tax of 34 cents per hundred dollars of payroll for all employers, including freelancers.

The 2009 law was meant to bail out the MTA from a $2 billion a year short fall.  The MTA said in a statement: “We will vigorously appeal today’s ruling. We believe this opinion will be overturned, since four prior challenges to the constitutionality of the law making the same argument have been dismissed.”

Government leaders from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties were among those who sued to overturn the "mobility tax."

The tax brings the transit authority more than a billion dollars a year. The tax applies to all 12 New York State counties served by the MTA.

In his ruling, State Supreme Court Justice R. Bruce Cozzins Jr. agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the tax does not serve substantial state interest, and improperly supercedes the county governments.

Paul Steely White, the President of Transportation Alternatives, a transit advocacy group, said in a statement:  "This decision threatens the foundation of the state’s economy. Public transportation is critical to the New York City metropolitan area—an area which provides 45 percent of the state’s tax revenue, paying for countless public services from Niagara Falls to Montauk. We hope Governor Cuomo resolves this case, and that the appeals court will consider the substantial state interest when reviewing this ruling.”

MTA Payroll Tax Decision

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Transportation Nation

As Cuomo Wins Support for Bridge With No Dedicated Transit Lanes, Funding Request Barrels Forward

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo took to the podium at a marina in Piermont, NY, to talk about building a new Tappan Zee Bridge (in background). (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY – WNYC) It's going to take at $5.4 billion to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the project a big push Monday by sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, asking for a $2 billion loan. Cuomo inked the request in front of a small crowd at a marina in the riverside town of Piermont, NY, that he might flourish his pen with the old, and beleaguered, Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.

But the new funding plans include no guarantee that the new bridge will have any form of public transportation, aside from a bus lane.

"The Tappan Zee Bridge is a metaphor for dysfunction," Cuomo said before the signing. He claimed the first plans to replace the bridge were developed before the turn of the millennium, as the bridge neared 50 years old.  "Think of all the hours in traffic people have been sitting on the bridge because that hasn't gotten done, how many wasted dollars patching that bridge," he said. "Think of all the pollution."

It took Cuomo many months to get to the moment. Key members of the The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose approval was needed before the loan could be requested, balked at a plan for the bridge that included no provision for a mass transit operation beyond a bus: options such as rail, light rail or a Bus Rapid Transit system linking to transportation hubs on either side of the Hudson. Cuomo won the votes of those officials by agreeing to form a task force to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.

There is also the question about where the state will get the rest of the money to pay for the massive construction project.  A Cuomo aide  recently raised the possibility of raising the bridge's $5 toll to $14 when the new bridge opens.  But after an outcry, the governor mounted a pro-bridge public relations plan, and then distanced himself from his own staffer's remarks.  Cuomo is known for running a tightly controlled administration, where subordinates generally don't speak out of turn.

In the Piermont speech, Cuomo merely promised to "keep tolls affordable."

And what if, the press asked Cuomo, the federal government doesn't come through with the loan? "I'm an optimist," he said. "They're going to say, 'yes.'" When asked if tolls would be raised even higher if the loan didn't come through, Cuomo repeated, "They're going to say, 'yes.'" Then repeated it a few more times.

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Transportation Nation

Dukakis To Transportation Nation: You Were "Dead Wrong" on Romney and Infrastructure

Monday, August 20, 2012

If given a forum, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis (and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee) can dish out some sharp criticism of Mitt Romney's infrastructure record. He calls it "disappointing" and "pathetic." Last week I sent him an email that referenced my infrastructure reporting here on Transportation Nation. And today I got a dose of his blunt assessments. He told me I was "dead wrong."
When I reviewed the transportation policy of Dukakis' fellow former governor of Massachusetts and current presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, I found he was a metro-friendly moderate with a focus on fixing what already existed. Dukakis disagrees.
He wrote:

"You were dead wrong. When Romney left the governorship, the state was a wreck-- rusting bridges, potholed roads, a great transit system that had serious financial problems he refused to fix, and a pathetic inability to get anything done. Projects that should have taken months took years, and his " fix it first" program was a joke."

He also offered to talk with me on the phone to offer more details. Full transcript of that below. This communication follows Dukakis' latest bout of criticism for Romney which aired on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last week.

Dukakis said flatly that after Romney’s four years as Governor “the state’s infrastructure, Rachel, was a wreck. That’s the only way you can describe it. Rusting bridges, potholed roads, couldn’t get anything done.” He later got slightly more specific by saying “bridge projects that should have taken eighteen months were taking four and five and six years. He couldn’t get anything done.”

This conflicted with my review in December of Romney's tenure. I found reason to praise Governor Romney’s record on transportation—specifically his focus, in a twenty-year statewide plan released in 2005, on repair and maintenance. The plan directed at least 75 percent of all new capital spending toward maintaining and improving the Commonwealth’s existing network, “consistent with the Romney administration’s ‘Fix-It-First’ policy," the release said.

We will of course continue to assess the candidates' records ourselves, which will include reaching out for comment from those Dukakis criticizes below. (When Dukakis took a swipe at Romney two years ago, a Romney spokesperson simply shot back that "Mike Dukakis sounds like a very angry and bitter old man.”)

But Dukakis' elaborations are worth noting. He shares two key resume bullet points with Romney and as this edited transcript shows, a passion for potholes ... and bridges and transit, and most of all Mitt Romney's record.

Edited transcript:

Dellinger: Governor, I would love to have you elaborate on the comments you made about Romney's record on infrastructure. I had the impression — mind you, at a time when you see some Republican Governors actively canceling high-speed rail and tunnel projects — that Romney was decent on transportation, that he at least talked a good game about the importance of maintenance and transit.

Dukakis: I guess he did. But Romney is one of the great disappointments to me. I mean, I was a huge fan of his dad’s. And in fact, truth be know, I courted Kitty in little yellow Rambler convertible in the early 60s, because George Romney was the only guy in Detroit making a small, fuel-efficient car. And George was a fine governor and a darn good Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (an agency his kid wants to abolish), and in fact some of my best housing people worked for him at HUD and were big fans of his. He was one of those prototypical, better than just moderate republicans. He was a doer, he believed in this stuff, thought it was important, and that government had a role to play.

When Mitt first arrived on the scene, as a [Senate] candidate against [Ted] Kennedy, he sounded very much like his dad, in the best sense. And when he became governor, we all assumed this guy is going to be George Romney Junior. And to this day I really don't understand this guy. His economic record was a disaster. Fourth from bottom in job creation. And just a lot of talk and no action. He just didn't seem to understand how to a Governor moves an economy, and especially the economy of the old older urban communities in the state, which is where we have the most economic stress. Or the role of infrastructure in stimulating that.

But on the infrastructure stuff itself, the guy was just really pathetic. I mean, I was all for the fix-it first thing. I think you got a fix it first before you start new stuff, although there were a number of new projects that we wanted to move on. But he was kind of detached. He had a very weak transportation team. It was a guy named Daniel Grabauskas who was the secretary of transportation, who now of all things has been hired to run the Honolulu transit system. Don't ask me what they expect him to do out there. But he was very ineffective, very weak. They just couldn't get anything done. Projects that should have taken months took years.

And as you know, here in the state it's not just the highways, but it's the Metropolitan transit system and the commuter rail system. We had stations, T stations, that were under reconstruction for years under this guy. And I'll tell you one story which is typical. The Ashmont station on the red line is a big station in the Dorchester section of Boston. And it was kind of an old station and so they're going to do a major reconstruction and do some transit-oriented development there. So a team was designated to do affordable housing next to Ashmont Station. And they did it. In about 18 months it was up and running, leased and all that stuff. The station project, which went way over budget, went on and on and on. And at some press conference some reporter asked Romney, 'What about Ashmont?' Romney had no idea where Ashmont station was.

You know he's always been a puzzle to me. So we ended up with bridge projects that should have taken twelve months that were taking three or four years. When I said the state's infrastructure was a wreck when he left it, that was not an exaggeration I remember driving up 128, and honest to God nine out of ten bridges were covered with rust. I mean they couldn't even paint bridges. And as you know, if you don't paint the bridge for 200,000 bucks, pretty soon you're gonna have a reconstruction job for 3 million. They couldn't do it. He was kind of detached. And then of course in his last year and a half, it was all about the presidency, so we never saw him.

And look, I had the best state transportation Sec. in the country. I mean nobody's better than Fred Salvucci. Fred's just remarkable, and we did billions of dollars worth of construction, completely redid the T, and all this kind of stuff. We were deeply involved, he and I, in the fight to kill the master highway plan and shift some money to public transportation, which we were able to do. So it's a big thing with me, but Romney just couldn't do it.

Dellinger: But let me just challenge you. Talking about a governor's record, isn't there a delayed effect, especially when it comes to visible signs of transportation improvements? In fact, you even said it's going to take Gov. Deval Patrick his full two terms to fix all of this. But you're judging Romney on only one term.

Dukakis: Yeah but Patrick has turned this economy around. Were really moving around here. And Patrick has worked it. I mean worked it. Intensively. He hasn't been fooling around on this life sciences stuff. And it's working. Metropolitan Boston is just popping with activity. Patrick has been fully engaged in this, and actively so. Romney never was. I mean I don't want to go on anecdotally at great length, but one of the things a number of us suggested to Romney was that he do what I—and of course Deval has done a number of times, and that is take a major state project and put it in a distressed area as a stimulus for revitalization. When I was governor we did this a lot in our older urban communities.

One of the proposals we made to him—and in fact I met with him personally, the only time I met with him was early in his term—was take the state Department of public health, which had about 1000 employees and was occupying expensive downtown office space, and move them to the Dudley section of Boston, which is Roxbury, which is now in the process of revival thanks to the mayor. But putting 1000 state employees in the new building, or a reconstructed building would have been a huge stimulus for this revitalization. And a bunch of us went in to see him. He certainly understood it. Never produced. Just never produced. Whether he didn't get it, or didn't understand it. And in fact he would've saved the state money. Rents out there are a lot cheaper than they were in downtown Boston. Just another example of the guys inability either to understand how you do this, or to execute, or something. But Patrick, in his first term, has turned this thing around.

Dellinger: I guess what I'm getting at is that with infrastructure a governor faces not just challenges that started when he first took office. The bridges are rusting because we built a lot of things right after World War II that were last that were meant to last 50 years, and the egg timers all went off at the same time.

Dukakis: To be sure. But what does it take to paint a bridge?

Dellinger: Well even today Massachusetts is suffering under the weight of having to pay debt service on the Big Dig. Romney spoke of moving the state to it's post-Big-Dig future, focusing on repairs. But there simply wasn't a lot of money to go around. 

Dukakis: Well, no. And the Big Dig was the result of sheer incompetence. I mean if Salvucci had been running that job it would have been done in half the time at half the cost. Trust me. And in fact I suggested to Weld when he took over that he ask Fred to stay on just to run the Big Dig. Well he rejected that advice. Fine and dandy. Then he picked a guy to run it was just utterly incompetent. But I'm not blaming Romney for the Big Dig. I mean that was largely the fault of Weld. But I'm not talking in terms of huge projects. I'm talking about bridge painting. I'm talking about bridge reconstructions, those kinds of things. Romney just couldn't do it. Just couldn't get it done. He didn't seem to be engaged. Didn't seem to understand the importance of it. Wasn't personally into it. And had a very very weak transportation team.

Dellinger: Can you point to specific things that you did, and that Gov. Patrick maybe is now doing, that were different, on a day-to-day level, with transportation? 

Dukakis: Well first you got to pick good people. Got to pick good people. And then secondly you have to be personally into it. I mean I was just all over this thing. Now it happens to be a particular interest of mine. It's something I go way back on. I don't know whether you're familiar with the history of this place, but like everyone other metropolitan area, we were told that in order to solve our problems coming out of World War II in the sixties and seventies that we had to build a so-called master highway plan that involved eight lane expressway's into the heart of the city. I thought it was a prescription for disaster. And meanwhile the T was falling apart. It was a basket case.

Fred Salvucci and I were deeply involved in the 60s—I was a young legislator at the time—in ultimately fighting and killing the master Highway plan. We were the first state in the country, thanks to [Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neill, to be able to use our previously designated interstate highway money for public transportation. It had never been done before. This was back in the time when you couldn't bust the Highway trust fund had to be gasoline tax money had to be used for highways. And so Fred and I had literally about $3 billion in former highway money.

This was the mid-70s. When Ford, who was quite good on the stuff by the way, was President, and then Carter. But it was Tip and the congressional delegation that obviously made it possible for us to do that. And so we basically just did a huge job on the T. I mean massive modernization. We acquired the existing commuter rail system from the private railroads for a song and used the highway money to transform that. It's now carrying 150,000 people a day. That's just commuter rail not to mention the T itself. All stations, total reconstructions. And you know today we've got one of the best public transportation systems in the country, and it's made a huge huge difference. So I both as a legislator and the governor was into this and deeply committed to it.

Dellinger: I agree that where money is appropriated, to what mode, is a very key factor in determining outcome. And when I looked into Romney's budget, he did seem to put his dollars where his mouth was. 

Dukakis: Just couldn't execute. That was his problem. Couldn't execute.

Dellinger: That sounds so subjective, though. What exactly does that mean? 

Dukakis: He couldn't get it done.

Dellinger: His DOT couldn't get things done... on time?

Dukakis: He just wasn't engaged. I mean that's Romney. He's kind of out there someplace. He just doesn't get into it. For one thing I rode the T. It wasn't an act. I was riding it since I was five. It's amazing what you learn when you ride the transit system. And you know, I'm a huge national rail passenger guy. I was on the Amtrak board. Romney has just announced he's for abolishing, getting rid of all Amtrak subsidies. I don't know what the hell he's talking about. Is he serious? Amtrak just carried 30 million people this past year. I mean if this country doesn't need a first-class national rail passenger system, I don't know what it does need.

Dellinger: Paul Ryan's budget opines that "“high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.” I assume you disagree that all new rail projects should be done as profitable businesses only?

Dukakis: There's no profitable— Well, we are making money on the Northeast corridor and the Acela. But were spending $40 billion in public subsidies on highways, $16 billion on air, and a billion and a half on Amtrak. Don't these guys understand? I mean where are they? I don't know what the hell they're talking about. Every mode of transportation, as you know, is subsidized. And rail and highway's and air are far more heavily subsidized than rail.

You go to Europe you go to Japan—Kitty and I went to South Korea a year ago where I'd been stationed back in the mid-50s—and it's embarrassing coming back from the United States after you've been over there. My God, they've got the best airport in the country, terrific transit in Seoul. Two high-speed rail lines. Couldn't find my unit in the DMZ because there's a huge new commuter rail station in what used to be a rice paddy when I was there. And here we are just stumbling around. I mean I just don't know what these guys are talking about.

Anyway that's my take on it, for whatever it's worth.

 

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

FULL LETTER: Tappan Zee Funding Request Approved

Monday, August 20, 2012

NY State finally has the local approval it needs to request federal funds to complete the $5.2 billion construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge spanning the Hudson river north of New York City.

After a unanimous vote this morning of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Council, here's the letter from NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.

Our NY reporter Jim O'Grady was at the event with Cuomo and will file a full report soon.

GOVERNOR CUOMO SIGNS LETTER TO U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION RAY LAHOOD
REQUESTING FEDERAL FUNDING TO BUILD A NEW BRIDGE REPLACING THE TAPPAN ZEE

Letter Follows Unanimous NYMTC Vote to Approve Governor?s Plan For a New
Bridge

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, joined by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos,
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef,
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Westchester County Executive
Rob Astorino, today signed a new letter of intent to U.S. Secretary of
Transportation Ray LaHood to apply for federal funding to build a new
bridge to replace the Tappan Zee. The letter formally initiates New York's
application for funding under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and
Innovation Act (TIFIA) program and came after the members of the New York
Metropolitan Transit Council (NYMTC) unanimously voted to support Governor
Cuomo?s plan to build a new bridge.  To view the Governor?s letter go to
http://www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/Ray_Lahood_pdf.pdf.

?Today we are one step closer to building a new, safer bridge that will
revitalize the Hudson Valley by creating thousands of jobs,? said Governor
Cuomo. ?After over a decade of delay caused by political dysfunction, this
letter demonstrates that we are making real progress towards constructing a
stronger, transit-ready bridge that will reduce congestion and be safer for
drivers for years to come. Over the past few months, members of my
administration have met with residents and business owners throughout the
Hudson Valley to ensure that this process is as transparent and inclusive
as possible. I applaud Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver, and the
Hudson Valley County Executives for their leadership and dedication to New
Yorkers.?

Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said, "A new Tappan Zee Bridge means
thousands of new jobs for the Hudson Valley, less congestion and a better
quality of life for the people who travel this span every day. I applaud
Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this important project, and for his
vision of what is possible here in New York. Senate Republicans will
continue to work with him to turn this state around, as we did on the
design-build legislation which contributed to moving this project forward."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking
critical steps to advance one of the most complex public transportation
projects New York State has undertaken in many years. I am looking forward
to further details as the project progresses that will consider the
concerns of residents, commuters, local businesses, and government
officials to safeguard travelers, eliminate traffic congestion, and provide
future mass transit options. This is a significant investment in the
region's economy that will result in the creation of tens of thousands of
jobs for hard working men and women, and I commend the Governor for his
leadership."

This letter represents a significant step in the process to build a new,
stronger, safer bridge that will last 100 years. Last fall, President Obama
granted Governor Cuomo?s request to expedite the process of constructing a
new bridge to replace the Tappan Zee and to make the project a priority.
Governor Cuomo also partnered with the legislative leaders to pass a
design-build law that will be used to streamline and prevent cost overruns
of building a new bridge.  The Governor presented a plan for a new bridge
that will be safer for drivers, create better options and faster service
for bus commuters, be transit-ready for rail or bus rapid transit, and
create 45,000 new jobs in the Hudson Valley.  Just last month, Governor
Cuomo released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the new
bridge project.  The FEIS was compiled by a dozen state and federal
agencies responding to over 3,000 comments from the public.

The NYMTC vote signifies an agreement between local officials from New York
City, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley to seek federal approval for
the Tappan Zee bridge replacement project.  The New York Metropolitan
Transportation Council (NYMTC) is a federally-required regional council of
governments that provides a collaborative transportation planning forum for
New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.  NYMTC, pursuant to
federal law, serves as the region?s Metropolitan Planning Organizations
(MPO).  A core requirement for receiving and spending federal
transportation funds is that states follow the prescribed
federally-required metropolitan and statewide planning processes.

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee said, ?I am very encouraged by the willingness
of the Governor's office to listen to the concerns of the community about
this important project that will improve public safety and present
opportunities for economic development in our region.?

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said, ?I am pleased that we
are moving ahead with a new safer bridge that will be built for tomorrow
and will be able to accommodate mass transit.  I applaud Governor Cuomo's
commitment to this project and to working with the Hudson Valley community
in order to make this process go forward.?

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell said, ?This project is more than
likely one of the largest projects that New Yorkers will be undertaking as
far as transportation infrastructure projects.  American history tells us
that it is these types of projects that helped our nation climb out the
Great Depression. The common goal I share today with my colleagues is to
get our families back to work or keep them working. As Putnam County
Executive I would like to applaud Governor Cuomo for his genuine
demonstration of good faith and leadership in working with County
Executives Astorino and Vanderhoef and myself in making sure that this
project move forward with as much information as possible, and I look to
The New York State Legislature to make sure the fiscal oversight is place
in order to keep this project on track.?

Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino said, ?Today marks an
important step in building a new Tappan Zee Bridge. Challenges await us,
but we are moving forward - unified in our commitment to give our counties,
state and country a bridge that creates jobs, strengthens our economy,
protects the environment and leaves a legacy we can be proud of.?

New Yorkers can see toll options, submit questions and concerns about the
project through www.NewNYBridge.com or call the toll free number,
855-TZBRIDGE. The website also features videos of the community meetings
and a database of all documents created over the last 10 years on the
Tappan Zee Bridge. A Twitter account has been set up for Tappan Zee
project, and New Yorkers can receive updates by following @NewNYBridge.

###

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Transportation Nation

Texas to Investigate Health Risks of Living Near Drilling Site

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user lmahornfan)

The number of oil and gas drilling sites is rapidly growing with the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking. Each new well brings new fears to neighbors who After a rise in breast cancer rates in one area attracted national attention in Texas, the state will now investigate the potential health effects of living near drilling sites.

The investigative reporting unit StateImpact, says previous limited studies have found no health risks in Texas, though studies in Utah and Colorado have pinned ill-health and smog on drilling. Dave Fehling spoke with Texas officials about the potential study.

Read the full story at StateImpact.

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